The Importance of Studying African American Art, Life, and History

Article excerpt

Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.--Carter G. Woodson (1)

In the above quotation, Carter G. Woodson, the father of black history, shared his conviction, central to his life work, which including founding and directing the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, that learning about the accomplishments of past generations of African Americans enriches and guides our modern lives. In this issue of Black History Bulletin, educators from around the country provide some innovative, detailed, and valuable lessons about African American art, life, and history. All of these lessons in teaching the accomplishments of enslaved Africans and their African American descendants also shed light on great effort and triumph.

Today in America, however, there are those who question the need for instruction in black history, and who even question its validity and relevance within the rubric of U.S. history. For example, as reported in June of 2005 by the Associated Press, John Perzel, a Republican lawmaker in Philadelphia, urged the city's public school system--whose student demographics are 67 percent black, 14 percent Hispanic, 14 percent white, and 5 percent Asian--to revoke what he called an "unnecessary" high school graduation requirement. The requirement is that all students take a single African-American history course. In a letter to the chairman of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, Perzel wrote: 'I would like to see [students] master basic reading, writing and arithmetic ... Once we have them down pat, I don't care what they teach.... They should understand basic American history before we go into African-American history. (2) When we read this article, we were taken aback by this uninformed viewpoint--especially since it was espoused in a city which is home to the African American Historical and Cultural Museum--America's "first institution funded and built by a major municipality to preserve, interpret and exhibit the heritage of African Americans." (4) Apparently, Perzel has the notion, unfortunately shared by others in high places, that black history and U. …